If MASH is a preview of comedy in the new decade, the ‘70s are in trouble. In aiming at hypocrisy--the Korean War standing in for Vietnam--we get what we deserve: an easy target. The movie refuses to back down, loving only its own clarity and its jaundiced souls stuck in the mud. There is something smug in all this, of course--but again: We’ve let the damn thing get this far, until all we have is rage against the dying of the light--while stamping on what little glimmer we have left.
When they finally drive Frank Burns insane, something unexpected happened: I began to feel bad for the bad guys, trapped in a movie that was just waiting for them to be themselves so it could strip them down and run them around like dogs with tin cans tied to their naked tails. Is it me, or is there something cruel in this new hierarchy, at the top people who know better but who sit back, powerless and left with nothing but scorn and irony, and unsparing in their blows?
Am I blaming Richard Nixon for MASH? I’d like to; he always seems to be gearing up for some kind of deviltry, his razor-raw neck retreating into his collar--and so yeah, why not: He asked for it, he came back so we could kick him around some more, and so I guess I’m willing to let Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Robert Altman have at him.